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Devers Elementary awarded highest honor in public education

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    Steven Horelica, Hayley Etheridge, Elizabeth Harris and Holly Stouffer

Accolades and Devers ISD seem to go hand in hand and now comes word Devers Elementary has been named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School.

The award is considered the highest award in education that an American public school can receive.

"Now we have another accolade to add, and we just continue to do great things with kids," said DISD Superintendent Elizabeth Harris.

According to a press release from the United States Department of Education, the recognition is awarded in two categories based on a school's overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

"I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential, and achieve their dreams," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. "As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children. Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students' lives."

Last spring, the school was informed they had been named a nominee here in Texas and now, this November, the school will be honored in Washington, D.C. as a recipient of the prestigious award. 

The school is one of 273 public schools from 45 states being honored this year.

There are currently 4,578 elementary schools in Texas and only 381 have won the award since its inception in 1982.

This year only six Texas elementary campuses were recognized in the two categories.  

Criteria for selecting schools here in Texas are based on student performance in the administration of the last two year's STAAR test and other criteria.

Devers Elementary completed an arduous application process conducted by the Department of Education and was recognized as an exemplary high-performing school.

"That application is the most difficult process," said Harris. "The format was tough, but the questions were fair."

Harris said the process was so challenging; in fact, it was suggested the district consult a grant writer to aid them in the process. 

Harris felt the suggestion was too costly for a small district like Devers; furthermore, she felt her team needed to tell their own story.

"Nobody can tell our story better than we can," exclaimed Harris.

A story she felt was best told by the teachers that helped make it happen as the award focuses on the test score of second-fourth grade students over the past two school years. Those students are currently in the fourth- seventh grades in Devers.

Leading those students are Holly Stouffer; 3rd Grade, Hayley Etheridge; 4th Grade, and Steven Horelica; 5th Grade. A trio of educators Harris praised highly.

When asked their secret, Etheridge quickly pointed out expectations and the time it takes to build on those across the board from teachers, students and most importantly, to the supportive parents in Devers.

"It's something that takes years to do. This whole place is built on high expectations and that starts in Pre-K, honestly and it's just the fruit of that labor for years and years," said Etheridge.

Horelica echoed those sentiments and talked about how numerous students across several grades earned this honor and how it reflected the entire school.

"I'm happy that the kids got the recognition they deserve. The kids and parents put in hours and hours of work to make this place what it is, and I was happy that they got the recognition, the highest honor that you can give a public school. These kids got it," said Horelica.

Stouffer had high praises for the parents and their effort to help educate the students in Devers.

"The parents are willing. They have the same expectations, so they know what we expect up here and are so willing to support that," said Stouffer.

All three educators said they genuinely love to see the light in a child's eyes when they learn something new and to watch them grow throughout the year.

"Here, we are fortunate enough that it's so small it's more like a family. Kindergarten is right next door to me, and I see those kids when they first get here and watch how much they grow and change. By the time they get to me in fifth grade, you already have that relationship with them, and you can just build on it and take off," said Horelica.

All three educators also had great things to say about Harris and the job she has done in Devers and how she has made everything a reality.

"None of this happens without Ms. Harris. That's the biggest point I can't drive home enough," said Etheridge.

According to Horelica, teachers in Devers have the freedom to teach and the ability to be creative and do what needs to be done. He also pointed to other districts that mandate so much and dictate the way everything must be taught to educators.

"Ms. Harris doesn't do that. She free's us to actually teach the kids and make things happen in the ways that we need to and doesn't bog us down with endless meetings or endless requirements," said Horelica.

Stouffer echoed that same sentiment and admiration.

"She is fully supportive and provides, allows. Listens to us when we say we've got this area that we do need or areas we are struggling in, and she'll listen and ask 'what do you need,'" said Stouffer.

All three believe the district truly has a leader with an open door for the staff and parents of all 202 students.

Liberty County's smallest district is also the only one to bring the Blue Ribbon home locally. Only a few neighboring schools in Beaumont and one in Baytown have done so, and they may be the first four-day school to do so as well.

School representatives will be attending the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 3rd and Friday, Nov. 4th, at the Washington Hilton, DC. 

Plans are in the works for a big school-wide blue balloon release and they are selling t-shirts to honor the big award that can be purchased by contacting the school at 936-549-7591.

Keep up with all of the goings on at Devers ISD as they continue doing great things in education in The Vindicator by subscribing today at or by calling 936-336-3611.